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Last Updated: Saturday, 16 February 2008, 23:36 GMT
Call for calm after Pakistan bomb
Supporters of Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party rally at Bhara Kahu near Islamabad (16.02.08)
The PPP has threatened street protests if it suspects fraud

The leader of the main opposition party in Pakistan has called for calm after a suicide car bombing killed 37 people at an election rally.

Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of ex-PM Benazir Bhutto, said the bombers wanted Pakistan to give up on democracy.

Pakistanis go to the polls on Monday, in what is intended to be a landmark in the transition to democratic rule.

Some 80,000 soldiers have been deployed across the country to try to reassure voters amid fears of further violence.

Saturday's bombing occurred after a rally in Parachinar in north-west Pakistan. A car was driven into a crowd waiting for food and blown up.

Many of the dead and wounded were supporters of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) - whose leader Benazir Bhutto was herself assassinated at an election rally in December.

Scene of Parachinar bomb blast
The Parachinar blast took place after an election rally

Mr Zardari condemned the bombing "with all the spirit of democracy".

He urged Pakistanis to stay calm because the attack was the bombers' "way of making us lose track and give up the path of democracy".

The area is regarded as a volatile border region, and has seen rising Islamist militancy in recent months.

Several other incidents marred the final day of campaigning ahead of Monday's poll:

  • A suicide bombing outside an army media centre in the Swat valley killed two civilians and wounded eight others.

  • A man equipped with a suicide jacket and explosives was arrested in the southern city of Hyderabad, police said.
  • Police fired tear gas at a rally of about 1,000 people from opposition parties boycotting next week's elections in the south-western town of Quetta.
  • Potential challenge

    President Pervez Musharraf said he was confident the elections would be free and fair.

    In a speech broadcast on state-run television on Saturday, he said Pakistan would have a "stable, democratically elected government" which would be used to "ensure a successful fight against terrorism and extremism".

    The president will not be standing in the parliamentary vote on 18 February.

    But the former military leader could face a serious challenge to his authority if the vote produces a hostile parliament.

    The BBC's Chris Morris in Islamabad says Mr Zardari is confident the PPP can emerge as the largest party in parliament, as long as the election is relatively fair.

    The PPP says it will consider street protests if it suspects electoral fraud.

    President Musharraf has however warned against any such action.

    He stepped down as army chief late last year.

    Ms Bhutto was assassinated in Rawalpindi on 27 December.

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